Top Nav Breadcrumb

Activating STEM pathways in Spain: Q&A with Cristina Balbás

Group of kids working in laboratory. Focus is on small girl repairing computer part.

We asked four alumni about what inspired them to dedicate their careers to a social enterprise. Cristina Balbás is an IB Diploma Programme (DP) graduate of Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong.

Escuelab is a social project that is democratizing access to practical, interactive science education, fostering research vocations and developing skills for the future amongst Spanish 4-14-year-olds through a variety of extracurricular programs, workshops and camps. Cristina Balbás is the founder and president of Escuelab and responds to our Q&A below.

“I put together a team of people with experience in science, education and social entrepreneurship to study the underlying causes of the decreasing interest in STEM fields.”

What inspired you to build Escuelab?  

During my doctoral training at the Spanish National Cancer Institute, I became involved in outreach activities through my interest in science and communication. I soon realized that many schools were left out of those activities because there were not enough spots available for interested students. This, coupled with the fact that between 2003 and 2012 students choosing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees in Spain went down by 5% (Eurostat, 2013), made me think about ways of bridging the gap.

cristina feature image
Cristina Balbás is a graduate of Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong.

I put together a team of people with experience in science, education and social entrepreneurship to study the underlying causes of the decreasing interest in STEM fields. We studied market opportunities, talked to stakeholders, piloted workshops in different contexts, before officially launching Escuelab.

At Escuelab, we produce and implement educational material in our non-formal programs based on neuro-education research. We use this unique methodology in our workshops, extracurricular science clubs, holiday day and residential science camps. Our pricing policies are adjusted to the socio-economic level of attending students and we have devised a scholarship program that allows students at risk of socio-economic vulnerability to attend our programs free of cost.

“We understand there are many budding social ventures that cannot wait for a legislative change to occur, so we mentor them and share our experience”

What is the most significant challenge facing aspiring entrepreneurs today? 

The largest gap I have encountered is the lack of a legal framework for social ventures. In the Spanish ecosystem, there is no legal form for social enterprises. In our case, we have opted to run both a non-profit association and a regular company to balance social impact and economic sustainability. This solution is far from perfect as it duplicates our operating requirements.

To address this problem, we are taking a double approach:

  • For a definitive solution, which we hope will come in the mid-term, we advocate for the creation of a legal denomination that fits the needs of the growing number of initiatives that fall under the budding social economy ecosystem in Spain. We do this informally, through conversations with thought leaders and policymakers, and formally, through our participation in official forums and initiatives.
  • In the short-term, we understand there are many budding social ventures that cannot wait for a legislative change to occur, so we mentor them and share our experience as an organization with a hybrid structure. Again, we do this both at the informal and formal levels, through our networks from incubating and accelerating programs for social enterprises in Spain.

In what ways has an IB education supported your career?

The IB and United World Colleges movement trained me to challenge the status quo, search for innovative solutions to social problems and equipped me with the tools to successfully start a sustainable project. The service component of the IB, which is especially reinforced in the UWC, was key to making me realize change-making could become a way of life.

Cristina Balbás is the founder of Escuelab, based in Madrid, Spain. To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates read these IB programme stories. Share your IB story by writing to alumni.relations@ibo.org.

More stories from this series about social entrepreneurship:

, ,